In the 2014 article “Game Theory: The Effects of Video Games on the Brain”, author Amy Paturel MS, MPH tells the story of British YouTube star, Anthony Rosner.  His documentary, “In Real Life”, describes how he almost lost himself to World of Warcraft until he was able to break himself free. Paturel’s article uses Anthony’s story to highlight some of the science behind the growing epidemic of video game addiction.

What is the effect of video game addiction?

She begins by quoting, Dr. David Greenfield, Medical Director of the Greenfield Recovery Center and the pioneering author of Virtual Addiction, “Playing video games floods the pleasure center of the brain with dopamine.” Greenfield describes how the Dopamine “gives gamers a rush—but only temporarily,” as it eventually leads to “a diminished supply of dopamine.” Dr.Greenfield, who is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine says it is this functional imbalance that leads to the reduced motivation experienced by 5% of the gaming community. Dr. Greenfields says the unpredictability within a video game further triggers an addictive response. “It’s exactly the same reward structure as a slot machine,” he says. “The player develops an unshakeable faith, that after a while, this will be the time I hit it big.”

Furthermore, Paturel describes Tom A. Hummer’s work on the development of executive function.  “The prefrontal cortex—the locus of judgment, decision-making, and impulse control—undergoes major reorganization during adolescence.” Paturel describes how the frontal cortex development is “essential for weighing risks and rewards and for putting the brakes on the pursuit of immediate rewards (like gaming) in favor of more adaptive longer-term goals (like next week’s chemistry test).” Hummer suggests this is “why young people are more likely to engage in hours of play while ignoring basic needs like food, sleep, and hygiene.” Paturel returns to Dr. Greenfield’s observation that the dopamine release from gaming is so powerful, “it can almost shut the prefrontal, executive regions down. “Kids plop themselves in front of a computer and they’ll stay there for endless hours,”

How do I know if it is an addiction?

Knowing if you or someone you love just enjoys the game or if there is a true addiction might be hard to decipher.  Take a look at these warning signs that might indicate a need for professional help:

  • Spending excessive amounts of time gaming
  • Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away (sadness, anxiety, irritability)
  • Defensive attitude when confronted about gaming
  • Not being able to play less, unsuccessful attempts to quit playing
  • Preferring to spend more time gaming than with friends or family
  • Moody, irritable
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Hiding gaming activities
  • Using gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness
  • Jeopardizing job and relationships because of gaming activities

At the Greenfield Recovery Center, we provide a whole-person approach to help those who have become addicted to not only video games, but also Internet, social media, and other techonology. We offer several screening tests that can help you determine if you or your loved one needs help.

Is there a connection between video games and other disorders?

The answer is yes. Research has found a direct correlation between behavioral health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and loneliness.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, excessive gaming has been associated with lower social competence and greater impulsiveness. They have also noted that many of those who play video games excessively do so as a coping strategy for already developed mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Excessive video game use has also been found to increase seizures and aggressive thoughts and behaviors.  Studies confirm a growing recognition that the powerful dopamine response from technology abuse interacts with existing isolating factors — depression, anxiety, lowered self-concept, executive function challenges. In other words, the difference between technology abuse and a debilitating addiction is much more complex than our popular notions of “will-power” or “morality.”

How do you treat video game addiction?

At the Greenfield Center, we recognize that recovery is not just taking away the device; it requires hard work to untangle the multiple factors underlying the unhealthy relationship. In fact, the detox from the dopamine imbalance is only the first step. Participants at the Greenfield Recovery Center reconnect with each other and the staff through authentic human interaction such as meal preparation, communal dining, board games, yoga, and martial arts. They take on group challenges through directed social experience to recognize themselves in a larger community. Through regular group and individual therapy, participants have the opportunity to examine the triggers and the feelings that made them vulnerable in the first place. Technology is introduced later in programming, allowing for a healthier relationship to be established. At the Greenfield Recovery Center, we help our participants develop new strategies, new understandings, and new beginnings so they can return to their life outside of treatment.

If you or someone you love needs help, call us today or submit our contact form for more information.

We are here to help you plug back into life.